tv This Week in Northern California PBS February 11, 2011 7:30pm-8:00pm PST
>> belva: good evening. i'm belva davis and welcome to "this week in northern california." joining me tonight on our news panel are, julie small, state capitol reporter with kpcc radio. jill tucker, staff writer with "the "san francisco chronicle."" and paul rogers. environment writer with "the san jose mercury news." paul, you interviewed the president of pg&e over this last
week about their problems. number one, the san bruno explosion. what new did you learn? >> there are still a whole lot of questions after the september explosion which folks remember killed eight people and destroyed 38 houses. we're going to get a lot of answers in the next few weeks. there are federal hearings in washington, d.c. on march 1st. and the national transportation safety board, which has been investigating this, is going to come out with as many as five more reports. they came out with a report a couple of weeks ago that looked in great detail at the welds on the section of pipe that blew up. and that answered some questions about why it blew up but it opened a whole bunch more. when chris johns, president of pg&e, came to "the mercury news" this week we asked a lot of questions about that. the key about this mystery is what happened in 1956. because remember, this giant -- not giant but this major transmission gas line basically was coming down a hill in san
bruno. there was a long straight piece down the hill, a flat piece on the bottom. and a very weird construction at the elbow where the hill sort of bottomed out. when the pipe was installed in 1956, the crew made six little sections called pups which are highly unusual in long pipelines. because the more welds you have, the more weaknesses potentially you have. so what ntsb found, and these are guys looking with electron microsco microscopes, really thorough. they flew the pipe back to washington, they found 150 flaws in the welds in this 40-foot section of pipe that blew up. some of the welds only went half as far through the steel as they should. which meant that the pipe was not as strong and couldn't hold as much pressure. so pg&e in its records didn't even know those weird pieces were down there. it was just a matter of time before it blew up. they were running it at pressure assuming a seamless piece of pipe down there. one of the questions we asked the president was, in your
review of millions of pranlgs of records have you found any other sections in the bay area with these weird welding together, jerry-rigged pieces? he said they hadn't, which is good news. what they wouldn't answer is the question of, what was the name of the crew that did work that day? what else did they work that week in 1956? whose neighborhoods were under there? did you inspect the work in 1956? he kept saying, that's under investigation. a lot of bay area residents, who realize these are rare events but when they happen they're deadly, they're waiting to see in the next couple of weeks what washington finds out. >> belva: was there any indication in any records anywhere that there could be these kinds of problems with welds along these long pipelines? >> not really. and that's the scary thing. it's raised a lot of questions about why pg&e's records aren't as good as they should have been. it's one thing to say we have ageing infrastructure in this country with old bridges and dams and things. but if you don't really know what's in the ground you can't properly operate the system.
you might endanger people. it's raised a lot of questions in recent months about how good the state and federal oversight of these companies are. are the rules strict enough? is this public utilities commission doing enough work? and also this week, the puc released hundreds of pages of its audits of pg&e over the last few years. and it raised some questions about, are they really, you know, riding herd on them hard enough? pg&e had miss someday deadlines on some lines. there was a section in the audits about potential weld problems on the line in between napa and sonoma, which pg&e hasn't fully inspected yet. so governor brown a couple of weeks ago appointed two new members of the commission, much more consumer-oriented members. we'll see if that, you know, is a tougher oversight. >> it's interesting, a lot of these things coming out are actually from the puc and pg&e itself about records and the companies that were building these pipes back in the '50s and how they had some problems even back then with these. it seems to be raising a lot
more questions, not just about what happened in september in san bruno, but a lot more questions about what is under our feet everywhere. and i'm wondering, we had a couple of explosions across the country in pennsylvania and ohio, and i'm wondering, it's hard to imagine pg&e is the only one that wasn't inspecting pipes properly or had maybe some of these funky pipes. is everywhere, are folks everywhere sort of asking questions? >> pg&e could potentially usher in national reforms in the way that pipeline companies operate pipeli pipelines. there are millions of miles of gas pipelines. everyone expects that you turn on your heat and the heat's going to come on. we have to bring natural gas to your house at high pressure, 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 pounds per square inch, a bomb running under everybody's neighborhood. the good news is these almost never blow up. i reviewed 25 years of records after this blew up in september, with other reporters, and we found back to 1986 only one fatality in the bay area from a
gas -- natural gas transmission line. and there are more than 1,000 miles in the bay area. there's 7 million people. so more people died from dog bites and bee stings over that time. but when they do blow up it's scary. allentown, the pipe that blew up this week in pennsylvania, killed five people. that was a smaller pipe, 12-inch pipe built in 1928. ntsb is investigating that. >> they don't know what -- >> they don't know. hanover, ohio. we could see major changes in the way this business is regulated in the united states because of san bruno. >> belva: each time we do this story there's something new. we hope it's moving toward some resolution and certainly away from massive accidents like the one here. well, it's no accident what's going on right now over in the montana diablo school district. over there, pretty heart-breaking decision for some people have been made, that is to close some schools. >> right. i think to close schools is perhaps the most gut-wrenching decision that a school board can make. and you can tell that because
they talk about it, in fact mt. diablo's been talking about school closures for four years or more. they have a hard time pulling the trigger. you have 6-year-olds showing up at school board meetings and crying because they don't want to lose their school. so it is an absolute gut-wrenching decision. they closed glen brook middle school and holbrooke elementary. they say they have one more to close. some of the names that they gave out were schools that had not been on the possible closure list. so families this week panicked because all of a sudden, they hadn't been fighting for their school like all these other schools, seven schools on the list, and it was astounding to me how quickly they mobilized. there is a website, they're having meetings, they're rallying. it is a gut-wrenching decision. but mt. diablo, they've lost, you know, a lot of kids. 2,500 kids over the last nine years. that's a lot of classrooms and a
lot of schools. and even only closing two schools that have about 300 kids isn't going to make up that gap. and empty schools means you're spending more money. and this is a school district that has been on the brink of financial collapse. they can't pass parcel taxes. they've had to cut $50 million from a $300 million budget. they are absolutely struggling. the combination of budget shortfall and declining enrollment, they got to this point. it was devastating for the community. >> how do you have 39ing enrollment when california's population is growing by about 500,000 people net every year? a couple hundred thousand of those are children. some places are adding a lot of kids. what's happening in those areas where they're having fewer kids? are the kids fleeing public schools for charter schools and private schools? or what's happening? >> yes, yes, yes. all of the above. so yes, you have areas, pockets, where people go and have gone.
in the past several years, you remember explosive growth in tracy and yet at the same time bay area districts were losing kids by the hundreds every year. and still are, to a certain degree. in many places where we've seen huge amounts of housing foreclosures, families have been fleeing. they're moving in together, they're moving back to cheaper places, whether that's antioch or some other places in the valley. they're leaving many of these communities. but you also have the demographics. the birth rate of these communities and things like that. the birth rate five years ago, ten years ago, is affecting enrollment. >> belva: does this really save districts a lot of money to do this? how do they make the decision? is it because the school is not performing well? or is there another school nearby and maybe there's an overlap? i'm trying to think of some of the reasons why they may reason to close certain schools. >> closing these three schools in mt. diablo will save them about $1.5 million. as one of the school board members who voted against the
closure said, that's .5 of 1%. a very small amount of money for their budget. every little bit counts. when you have empty schools it doesn't seem to make some sense. some of these are really good schools. but just because of the way the schools are situated, or because you're closing a middle school you're going to close the feeder school to that. many places across california, san francisco is one of them, they're shutting down a low-performing school as part of federal requirements to fix schools. they're shutting down lily brown academy, at least for a while, next year. it's a combination. it depends on the district. you're seeing school closures vallejo to mt. diablo, san francisco is merging two schools. you can arguably say that's not a cloche closure, although there were two schools, now there's one. one school went away. >> a lot of these kids are going to private schools what is you're saying? >> in some places they are. in san francisco, a lot of children go to private schools. oakland, a lot of children go to charter schools. >> there's a spiral? more kids go out, less money
coming to those schools, the quality of the schools continues to go down, more people want to flee? >> it's very difficult for schools. one of the schools that's merging in san francisco is a middle school. horace day middle school. there's 100 kids in that school. how do you operate,py for a principal, custodian, all of these people that require to maintain a school, how do you justify that when you are laying off people and all of these types of things. it is a financial decision for them, even though it doesn't save them a lot of money. but what a lot of the school districts have found after they close schools is that they have an empty building in many cases that they have to maintain. you can't just let it crumble to the ground. and that still costs money. a lot of school districts have realized later on that they end up actually not saving as much money as they thought and they've traumatized the entire community. >> belva: and the group -- in other words, the performance of the students is not the
criteria? >> sometimes it is but not always, and in this case it wasn't. >> belva: we're going to turn to another story, meeting the criteria of the judge's idea of how a death chamber should look and be operated here. let's start first with how did we get to the decision where we have a judge who's going out to tour a chamber to see if it meets constitutional standards? >> we had an inmate on death row, michael morales, challenge the state's lethal injection procedure. he claimed that it was unconstitutional, because of the way that california officials were carrying it out. they weren't doing enough to ensure that inmates are unconscious when they're put to death. he challenged that. and the judge found enough things going wrong, and he raised enough questions in his mind, that he decided to issue a moratorium on executions in california because he identified a number of deficiencies in the way that california officials were carrying out executions. >> belva: what kinds of things would cause him to delay
executions for five years? >> well, everything from the facilities, which is why they built a new facility at san quentin. the facilities that they were carrying -- they used the old gas chamber. they just converted it to do lethal injections. all they did was drill holes in the wall and run some iv tubes through. and it was very cramped. the people handling the execution couldn't actually observe the lines. they couldn't observe the inmate. and the bags that the saline bags that hold the drugs were up so high they couldn't even observe that. so that right there, they couldn't even see what they were doing, the work they were doing. also, very poor training. you had people mixing the drugs incorrectly. they didn't know what they were doing. bad record keeping. incomplete logs of the executions. there's supposed to be an ekg, and there's no record. they're supposed to monitor the vitals of inmates but there's no
record what was their vitals were at the moment of death. those kinds of things. >> belva: so what does the new chamber look like? >> it is completely different. it is a very modern facility. it's spacious. it looks a lot like a clinic. it's like being in a medical clinic. it's very -- the execution chamber itself, where the gun 90 is, is a pale green gurney. it's a very large room, very large viewing area for the public. separate areas for the family of the victim to sit in and the family of the inmates. can sit on opposite sides. and it's very brightly lit. the room where they actually mix the drugs and administer is brightly lit and spacious. but there were still a lot of questions left open in the tour because they didn't actually have the rigging set up. so the judge was asking questions like, if this was a real execution where would the lines go? would they go to this wall? what's the relationship? how close is the inmate? how long is the line? these are questions that are
pertinent to figuring out if they'll make sure those drugs reach the inmate. >> polls show that roughly 70% of californians support the death penalty. so i'm sure a lot of people are listening to this saying, does it really matter how long the tube is or what exact paper records you have? particularly they'll say when you look at the kind of crimes these guys committed. i guess the question a lot of them are going to ask is, how long will it take for this process to work out before the judge finds an arrangement he likes? and executions resume? because obviously, 700 people on death row who are condemned, and it's been stalled for a number of years. how long is it going to take? >> it's certainly not going to happen this year. because the judge is just gathering the information about the changes the state made to the protocol and to the death facility itself. he's got to hold a number of hearings on that, evidentiary hearing. probably won't happen this year. then more legal challenges out there. i think we've all been hearing in the news that the state, this state and many other states, are
not able to get one of the drugs that they use in executions. >> i wanted to ask you about that. it's always interesting to me, lawsuits about the kind of truck that knocks them unconscious. that was a part of the original concern is they weren't totally unconscious. now we can't get ahold of the drug that would knock them unconscious. and i'm thinking, every day in the united states we knock out thousands of people on gurneys in hospitals for surgery. we don't seem to have a problem with causing any pain for those people. so why does it seem to be so hard for the prison system to knock someone unconscious and get the drugs that every hospital is using to do surgeries? >> i think they have to -- it's various oversight. the protocol is so precise. every moment of an execution is orchestrated. it's in the regulations. they only have certain drugs approved in certain states to use for executions. like you say, there are lots of viable alternatives but because they've approved this one drug -- >> that nobody makes anymore. >> that the only u.s. manufacturer is no longer going
to make and ran out of supplies in the fall, they had to do this international search for the drug. >> belva: what about the cost of all of this? i think the original study was about $900,000, wasn't isn't it. >> $900,000 just to build this new lethal injection facility, yeah. they're spending a lot of money on it. >> and the judge will let us know by the end of this year. but there will be even more time after that. >> yes. well, yes. we presume more people will continue to challenge it. >> belva: my thanks to all of you for joining us here tonight. in celebration of black history month, we bring you this story of a musician and organizer with an extraordinary history. jimmy collier lifted spirits at thousands of mass meetings and picket lines across the south during the civil rights movement. and he performed in major concert halls from carnegie hall to the houston astrodome.
he now lives a quiet life on a ranch in mariposa just outside of yosemite. we caught up with collier recently at the western workers labor heritage festival in burlingame. ♪ ♪ if you can't go let the children go ♪ ♪ well if you can't go let the children go ♪ ♪ if you can't go let the children go ♪ ♪ gloorlory hallelujah i'm on m way ♪ >> collier grew up in the segregated world of arkansas. as a young man his defiant spirit and musical talent helped dismantle segregation in the south.
for many years, jimmy traveled with dr. martin luther king jr. and became known as dr. king's singing organizer. with a few word changes, the african-american spirituals jimmy grew up singing became powerful anthems for the civil rights movement. >> for safety reasons they never wanted people to know exactly when dr. king was going to arrive at a mass meeting like this. so my job was to go a little bit ahead in some cases. i wouldn't know how long i would have to play. sometimes it was just a few minutes. sometimes it would be a couple of hours. >> and i've seen the promised land. i may not get there with you. but i want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. ♪ oh freedom over me
♪ before i'll be a slave i'll be buried in my grave ♪ ♪ and go home to my lord and be free ♪ >> we were trying to get people to register to vote. so you'd go out and think, god, this is the middle of alabama, the middle of mississippi. and people would go out and try and get people to come into town and register. you'd wonder, people would go off and you'd think maybe we'll never see them again. if we got arrested, we were in the patrol car, you'd see the jail, you know, coming up. you're like, oh my god. thank goodness it's the jail. it's not the river. >> belva: jimmy sang and organized across the south. as well as in chicago and harlem. but most of his work took place in alabama with the fight for
voting rights in selma and the long march to montgomery. two civil rights workers were murdered in that struggle. >> the lady that got killed on the selma to montgomery march. i just happened to be talking to her before she got in the car with another young kid. they went up to montgomery. of course, she never made it. ♪ once you walk that highway, she has walked by herself ♪ ♪ nobody else could walk it for her, she had to walk by herself ♪ you know that once people are involved, even if it's just singing, that there's a next step. and it's easier to take that next step if you've already got people singing and moving their feet and clapping their hands.
you know. moving their head back and forth. ♪ i woke up this morning with my mind saying freedom ♪ ♪ i woke up, woke up this morning, i woke up yeah ♪ ♪ my mind was set on freedom ♪ i woke up, lord i woke up this morning ♪ >> i used the guitar a lot. i wore out a couple of guitars. in fact, at one point people on the program came on and they had nice, bright, shiny, good-looking guitars and stuff. and i had something that had been drug through the mud and whatnot. and dr. king said something to dr. abernathy. they said, can't we get jimmy a better guitar? so they gave me some money, i went and bought a gud 40. early in the south, you know,
once -- you know, you couldn't buy strings. no music store would sell you stuff. they could tell who you were if you were in town. you couldn't buy strings and stuff. it was a big hassle. i learned how to make strings out of all kinds of wire, you know. >> a lot of the rights and things that we have today didn't exist a few years ago. things get pushed back in these hard times. but they never go all the way back. ♪ if you miss me from the back of the bus you can't find me nowhere ♪ ♪ come on over to the front of the bus, i'll be riding up there ♪ >> belva: dr. martin luther king jr. said, music has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms, when courage began to fail. and it has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down. ♪ there's too much hate, too
much hate ♪ ♪ always in this world there's been too much hate ♪ ♪ too much love, too much love ♪ always in this world these been too much love ♪ >> belva: that's all for tonight. visit kqed.org/thisweek any time to watch complete episodes and segments. subscribe to our newsletter and our podcasts. and share your thoughts about the program. i'm belva davis. good night.
>> history unfolding before our eyes as egypt is transformed and the middle east is shaken tonight on "washington week." all eyes are on egypt and iran and israel but most of all on the people. a revolution broadcast live transfixes is world. >> this is the power of human dignity and it could never be denied. egyptians have inspired us. now with a ripple effect including what it means for u.s. foreign po
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